Streetscape plans up for review in Bethany

Bethany Beach residents and officials will get a new perspective on a long-running plan for the town at a special meeting set for Saturday, Dec. 10, at 10 a.m. in the town hall. The long-touted Streetscape project for Garfield Parkway will be the subject of discussion at the meeting, with presentations and analysis on two potential designs.

The reason for the meeting is that council members must come to a concrete decision on which of the plans, if any, they wish to wholeheartedly endorse. That requirement came from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and following on the heels of a conditional vote in favor of a plan known as Scheme 4, back in 2002.

Scheme 4 features:

• A single traffic lane, widened in the composite plan from 16 feet to 18 feet, after input from then-Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company President Wilbert Powell about the minimum needed width to extend the bracing legs on the company’s largest fire truck;

• 22-foot sidewalks to accommodate the large amount of pedestrian traffic the area sees in the summer;

• A 9-foot parallel-parking area on each side of the street;

• A 38-foot center median featuring both tree islands and angled parking;

• Bicycle travel combined with vehicular traffic; and

• A low- or no-rise traffic circle at Garfield and Atlantic Avenue.

Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch — a member of the Beautification Committee that was involved in developing the plan — explained at the Nov. 19 commission meeting that the main emphasis of the single-lane plan was to change the focus and feel of the street from that of a roadway.

Instead, the street would have the feel of a parking lot and entryway to the town — something emphasizing safety, reduced speed and awareness of pedestrians and cars pulling in and out, along with a destination feel.

For pedestrians, the plan features wider, less cluttered (visually and physically) sidewalks. Utility poles are relocated to alleyways or lines buried underground — a popular idea and likely to be in the final design.

For drivers, the aim was to reduce traffic and traffic speed, to re-create Garfield Parkway as a destination street and not one for massive amounts of through-traffic. A side goal was to preserve as much parking as possible, including the existing 33 parallel-parking spaces.

Bicyclists lose their bike lane, but according to Boesch, that isn’t a major loss anyway — they are already routinely forced into traffic lanes by the opening of doors from cars that are parallel-parked.

To meet their goals, the committee members and members of the public targeted a number of disparate elements presented in the three plans a design firm had brought to them. That included the single traffic lane — geared to reduce speed and vehicular interaction — and preservation of the parallel parking areas. Those elements were cherry-picked and combined into Scheme 4.

Council members accepted the notion of putting the plan forward when it was originally presented to them, but expressed concerns about a number of elements, including the traffic circle, one-lane design and whether the street width was indeed enough to accommodate the fire company’s needs.

The result was a nod to move forward with Scheme 4 as a starting point, conditioned on approval of the design from appropriate agencies, including the fire marshal’s office.

Those approvals were never obtained, and the plan has languished until recently, when DelDOT officially notified the town it would not be accepting the conditional approval of the plan nor itself acting as an approving agency to meet those conditions. Instead, it wants an unconditionally approved plan from the council.

With so much time lapsed between the original design presentation and the related council vote, and a significant change in the makeup of the council, Town Manager Cliff Graviet and some council members wanted a refresher on Scheme 4, as well as a chance to analyze it and at least one of the three original designs in the light of current information — including a 2004 traffic study by engineering firm JMT.

So, the Dec. 10 meeting will not only include a presentation on Scheme 4, but one on what is now designated an “alternative scheme” or Scheme 5. That design was developed from one of the original three designs, with a nod to the Christian Church’s adamant refusal to consider ceding any of its land for parking and some council members’ concerns about the roundabout concept and one-lane design.

Additionally, fire company representatives have since said they need even more than the 18 feet of width to set up their fire trucks, since fire personnel also need to maneuver around those stabilizing legs.

The basis of the alternative scheme is, thus, one of the original two-lane designs, adjusted at Graviet’s request by engineers from JMT. In the resulting design two changes are immediately noticeable:

• The absence of the parking shown on the original two-lane scheme that would have been located on what is Christian Church property. Representatives from the church, upon hearing of the idea, laid to rest any notion that the church would cede any of the land to the town and issued reminders that even the existing playground property is only leased to it.

• The absence of the controversial traffic circle, which Graviet said some of the council members had expressed doubts about to him and which is still a source of concern for the fire company.

The resulting scheme also differs from the original two-lane design in one important way — it does not eliminate 33 parking spaces.

Boesch has objected to the two-lane plan as a basis for any presentation to the council on the basis that it eliminated those spaces. But Graviet told the Coastal Point that the new two-lane plan, despite eliminating any proposed parking on the verboten church property and existing parallel parking, that the number of spaces lost is just 12.

The tradeoff for that loss could be viewed as a positive by many:

• Retention of a bicycle lane, which Graviet views as more inviting to visitors and less likely to encourage vehicular traffic downtown, since bicycling will be a more viable option;

• 24-foot sidewalks — even wider than in Scheme 4; and

• Two 11-foot travel lanes — wide enough, according to the BBVFC, to not only allow those stabilizing legs to be extended but to also allow needed room (20 feet total, minimum) for firefighters to walk around the legs.

Graviet said that his experience, as the town’s police chief for eight years, was that the wider 18-foot lane of the single-lane concept was also too wide to truly slow traffic as desired and just wide enough to allow drivers to dangerously move into two de facto lanes, marked or not.

The two 11-foot lanes would, he said, allow traffic flow — battling concerns that traffic might back up onto Route 1 under the single-lane scheme — while being narrow enough to inherently encourage slower vehicle speeds.

Graviet also expressed concern about the whole notion of shifting Garfield Parkway from travel-oriented street to destination, saying that encouraging traffic on neighboring residential streets was a potential safety issue.

In addition to presenting the “alternative scheme,” engineers from JMT are to examine both plans for projections on how they would work based on traffic and pedestrian studies the company did last year.

Mayor Jack Walsh told the Coastal Point that aspect of the presentation was particularly important in his mind, since it would provide information the council didn’t have when it originally considered Scheme 4.

The town has encouraged citizens to attend the Dec. 10 meeting and to study the information provided on both designs so they can give educated input on the project before the council makes any decisions about the future of the project and which design — if any — it might endorse.